Elizabethans see their cup bid blitzed by Cliftonians' air raid
OLD Cliftonians subjected their opponents to a clinical aerial assault as they booked a place in the semi-finals of the Downs League All Saints Cup.
High-flying Division Four outfit Old Elizabethans had no answer to the series of precision crosses from Damien Kelland's energetic side.
To call Cliftonians, who currently top Division Three, simply a potent route-one outfit would be unfair, however. With star man Richard Yates driving them on at the head of a diamond-shaped midfield, they carved numerous openings along the ground too for hat-trick man Dan Grech, and strike partner George Harris.
But as many teams have found to their cost this season, it is the accuracy with which set-pieces are whipped into the opposition area, and the power of defender Julian Hollis' lethal long throw-ins, that cause panic and confusion in defences. And, boy, were Elizabethans made to suffer in a one-sided battle of the old boys.
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It took Cliftonians only four minutes to open their account, Grech calmly nodding the ball over the line from close range after Yates' initial attempt had been parried into the prolific forward's path by Steve Foreman.
Elizabethans rallied well for a spell and Cliftonians keeper James McNamee reacted bravely to a deep Daniel Hawkes corner by arching his back at the far post to tip the ball behind him under pressure from a melee of bodies.
Simon Harris, who was later to suffer a serious-looking ankle injury, thrashed a 20-yarder high and wide with the target in sight but went much closer to scoring moments later for Elizabethans when McNamee denied him at the near post following a pass by George Turner.
The alert McNamee was in the thick of it again when he reacted swiftly to claw away a back-header by his own defender James Harris, who was mightily relieved to see his acrobatic team-mate bail him out.
At the other end, the industrious Yates did well to control a bouncing ball, swivel sharply and volley it narrowly wide of goal as Cliftonians tried to recapture their early threat.
Instead, they found themselves on level terms as Elizabethans capitalised on a moment of good fortune on 27 minutes. Cliftonians captain Guy Hollis raised his arms to protect his face as the ball flew up at him from close range inside the box, an act referee Andy Dixon, who enjoyed a decent game, deemed intentional. Harris happily took advantage by netting with a clinical low strike from the penalty spot.
Cliftonians went back in front in the 38th minute when one of a procession of Rory Delap-style Julian Hollis throws hurled into the penalty area picked out Grech, who sent his glancing header looping over the stranded Foreman and into the net.
And it should have been 3-1 a minute later when Grech motored into the box before smashing an angled shot against the bar. The rebound fell invitingly into the path of Bliss, who somehow failed to turn the ball into the empty net on the volley.
The reprieve was a fleeting one for Elizabethans, who were blown away by the tenacity and power of their opponents after the break. Yates' off-target diving header from James Harris' corner three minutes in served merely as a warning because, a minute later, Bliss' left-sided corner was headed goalwards at the back post by Yates who would have scored himself had team-mate George Harris not helped the ball over the line.
Elizabethans were now coming under severe aerial bombardment and moments later midfielder Pete Lynes flung himself forward to flick on another Bliss flag-kick and Yates skilfully steered an unerring finish into the net from 12 yards.
Bliss was proving unstoppable with his pinpoint corners and another perfectly-flighted delivery presented James Harris with a goal courtesy of near-post header to make it 5-1 on the hour mark. Five minutes later, Julian Hollis propelled another mighty throw into the box which the unmarked Grech again turned home from close range with ease to complete a hat-trick of headers and make it 11 goals in only four appearances for Cliftonians, and 40 goals in 22 outings over the past two years for the 25-year-old.
It didn't get any better for the demoralised Elizabethans when their main threat, Simon Harris, badly hurt his ankle after being chopped down inside the box on 67 minutes.
While he was being carried off after a lengthy treatment, his replacement Wills Gibbs was seeing his resultant penalty expertly kept out by McNamee, diving low to his right.
With both managers now on – former Henbury star Chris Hawkes still looking sprightly at aged almost 50 – the only surprise was Cliftonians didn't add to their tally as a volley of shots and headers flew past Foreman's goal frame.
Old Elizabethans: Steve Foreman; Dominic Brice (Lewis Yost, 64), George Turner, Benji Morris (Chris Hawkes, 81); Tom Sheppard; Daniel Hawkes, Tom Potterton, Alex Harris, Mas Ahmadi; Lou Marshfield, Simon Harris (Will Gibbs, 72).
Old Cliftonians: James McNamee; Matt Richardson, Julian Hollis, Alex Langston, James Harris; Guy Hollis, Pete Lynes, Richard Yates, Oli Bliss; George Harris, Dan Grech (Damien Kelland, 76). Other subs: Ed Condon, Maxwell Hope.